Panasonic Lumix LX7 replaces LX5; G5 and two megazooms also announced

All of a sudden, you've got a very difficult decision to make if you're looking to buy a premium point-and-shoot camera. Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LX7, the follow-up to the popular Lumix LX5, offers a category-leading F1.4 aperture at the wide-angle end of its zoom, making it a standout option for low-light shooting and shallow depth-of-field effects.

In addition to the LX7, Panasonic announced a few more cameras and a lens today, including a new mid-level Micro Four-Thirds model, two new megazoom cameras, and a Wi-Fi-enabled camera with a 10X-optical-zoom lens.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7: The fastest fixed-lens camera around?

The 10-megapixel Lumix LX7 retains the retro look, physical knobs and buttons, hot shoe, and manual controls of the LX5. It also has a 3.8X-optical-zoom lens (24mm to 91mm) like the LX5, but its F1.4-aperture lens at the wide-angle end is a few steps faster than its predecessor – or any other fixed-lens camera out there, for that matter. The aperture is still very wide at the telephoto end, with a maximum aperture of F2.3 at full zoom. That's rare, too.

Another notable change is the sensor, which is a 1/1.7-inch-type CMOS sensor rather than the CCD sensor found in the LX5. With the new CMOS sensor, the LX7 now captures 1080p high-definition video at 60 frames per second, and you're able to use the camera's manual aperture and shutter controls as you're filming. Panasonic has also added top-mounted stereo mics to the camera.

There are a few more big changes, too. The Lumix LX5 offers quick aperture adjustments via a click-ring around the lens, and you can deploy a built-in neutral-density (ND) filter by adjusting a little dial above the 3-inch LCD on the back. There are some new in-camera options to go along with the new sensor, as well, including an 11fps burst mode at full resolution, an HDR mode, a 3D still mode, and several creative filters.

Like its predecessor, the LX7 shoots in RAW; has a hot shoe on top of the camera for external flashes, microphones, and electronic viewfinders; offers Panasonic's fast autofocus system; and provides quick access to macro mode, exposure lock, and other settings via physical buttons and switches.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5: A smaller, lighter digital SLR alternative

The Lumix G5 is a new mid-level mirrorless camera in Panasonic's G series of Micro Four-Thirds System cameras. It has a body that's shaped like a digital SLR, but it feels significantly smaller and lighter in the hand.

The 16-megapixel Lumix G5 has an eye-level electronic viewfinder in addition to a tilt-and-swivel 3-inch touchscreen, which complements the camera's physical controls for focusing and other in-camera adjustments. In past G-series cameras, the touchscreen has worked well for touch-to-focus controls and dynamically switching focus points while shooting video.

It's also the first interchangeable-lens camera I've seen with a zoom toggle around its shutter button for controlling the zoom lens. The Lumix G5 is compatible with Panasonic's X series of lenses, which have powered zoom controls that can be operated with this camera's integrated, point-and-shoot-like zoom lever. You'll need to buy the X series powered zoom lens separately, as the camera comes with a standard, lens-barrel-operated 14-42mm kit lens. Without a compatible lens attached, the camera's zoom lever can also be used to navigate the playback and menu functions.

Panasonic is touting the G5's autofocus speeds, as well as its new sensor and the latest iteration of the company's Venus image-processing engine. Other highlights include a 6fps burst mode at 16-megapixel resolution, ISO equivalency settings up to 12,800, RAW and 3D still-image capture, and an array of creative filters. In video mode, the G5 shoots 1080p video at 60fps in AVCHD Progressive format and 1080p video at 30fps in MP4 mode, both with continuous contrast-detection autofocus enabled.

Panasonic also announced a new lens for the G series today, the optically stabilized H-FS45150 45-150mm/F4.0-5.6 telephoto zoom lens, which is small and light for its zoom range. Due to the G series' 2x focal-length multiplier, the new lens will have the equivalent of a 90mm to 300mm field of view when mounted on any G series camera.

Two full-size 24X megazooms: Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and FZ60

A pair of 24X-optical-zoom fixed-lens cameras will also join the 2012 Lumix lineup. The 12-megapixel, CMOS-sensored Lumix FZ200 offers a reach of 25mm wide-angle to 600mm telephoto, with an optical stabilization system to steady the lens. The most-compelling feature of the FZ200 is the camera's relatively wide aperture of F2.8 for a megazoom model; rarer still is the fact that the maximum aperture remains at F2.8 throughout the camera's 24X zoom range.

Along with fast autofocus speeds, a snappy burst mode of 12fps at 12-megapixel resolution, and a super-slow-motion movie mode that captures at 240fps, the FZ200 also offers 1080p video recording at 60fps. It also boasts a RAW shooting mode, a hot shoe, and a range of in-camera creative filters. For framing shots, it offers both an eye-level viewfinder and a tilt-and-swivel 3-inch LCD screen.

The other new megazoom is the 24X Lumix FZ60, which has the same zoom lens but lacks the constant F2.8 aperture and RAW mode. Its 16-megapixel CMOS sensor is also different, which leads to slightly different video and burst-mode specs. Video capture tops out at 1080i resolution at 60fps, while burst mode maxes out at 10fps at full resolution.

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